For one of my main characters, I use internal thinking/processing/&intuition to run counterpoint and deepen our understanding of his motivations. This approach manifests in the story in three ways:

~ His internal dialog, memories

~ His dream state, where his subconscious is able to give him deeper understanding of the conflicts in his life

~ His fears, which are manifesting as hallucinations about snakes.

In other words, this character has regular dialog, internal dialog, memories, dreams, and hallucinations. He has a lot going on.

I happen to think this approximates a normal person, but here is my problem:

I believe it is getting messy for the reader. In particular, I worry that the hallucinations (fears) and subconscious knowledge (which ends up being his form of 'light magic' in the story, his access to akashic-like knowledge) will become confusing to the reader. Like the reader would say,

"Wait, is this one of those weird dreams again?"

Me: "No, no, this is a hallucination, not a dream."

I worry he has too much going on. My question: How would I decide if I should eliminate one of the 'internal' elements (probably the hallucinations)? Perhaps they aren't necessary. Do the elements above sound like 'too much' for a main character?

  • 1
    hmm the internal dialogue goes with normal dialog, which you can usually make stand out with single quotes, italics, and other means. Dreams, I tend to explicitly state they are in a sleep prior to entering the dream world followed by being brought back to the reality. Hallucinations are supposed to be confusing. If the reader feels what the MC feels, hallucinations are supposed to be confusing cause they are very real to the MC even if they are fake. Of course you want the after math of a hallucination to be followed by, oh I was doing it again huh... doing what?... hallucinating... yes...
    – ggiaquin16
    Nov 8, 2017 at 16:59
  • @ggiaquin aftermath of hallucination is an interesting idea, yes.
    – SFWriter
    Nov 8, 2017 at 17:03

2 Answers 2


I think you can easily differ between these part of the book (or whatever it is).

you can ask readers to prepare themselves for the surreal part of the story !

you can say it in the hidden way! for example create an extra character (like a speaking little ghost or something like that weird insect in Pinocchio.) then when this extra character start to talk, reader notice the main here is in the unreal world or is just think for herself in a more creative way, that he/she had to create this imaginary character to organize his/her own plans.

if it was a movie you could easily explain this unreal conditions by adding some background music or showing some vapor around the environment. since you don't have such options in writing, so adding a imaginary character can be a big help !

by the way some smart readers prefer that get confused ! your story have not be understandable by all the people on earth ! you can just write it in a confusing way, and will see there are many people understand it yet. :)

  • 1
    Aha, the subconscious/akashic experience already has a jiminy cricket element, I could make sure that is always emphasized in the first line of each occurrence.
    – SFWriter
    Nov 8, 2017 at 17:04

I think if you set the context clearly you can keep the dreams separate from the hallucinations. By that I mean do not have any scenes where it is unclear he is in a dream to the reader. The character doesn’t have to recognize it. By having surreal descriptions or repetitive totems in the dreams people will catch on.

The sources of subconscious knowledge will be challenging since they can feel like Deus Ex Machina solving the problem. They can easily feel like a cheat. But, as long as the subconscious knowledge is being used to move the story forward and not resolve the conflicts it would be interesting.

You can treat the hallucinations like the dreams and keep them in a clear context. Since most people have experienced a hallucination, I think it will require more of an explanation to establish it clearly.

If you have a reoccurring element associated with the experience — a woman in white, a penguin, snakes —- that emphasize their unreal nature, that way when the character experiences them, you’ll have something familiar to the reader to build your narrative on.

  • Hi there's a weirdness after "your snakes are unreal" that you might want to fix. I'm not sure what you were trying to say so I can't edit it for you.
    – Cyn
    Jun 14, 2019 at 18:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.